My Thoughts on “We Live In Public” and the Internet in General

After watching the whole of the “We Live In Public” documentary, I report that I found the film incredibly disturbing. My opinion turned negative when Josh Harris’ alter ego “Luvvey” was introduced. It made me wonder how Harris could be so driven to innovate the way we interact with each other online, but completely misunderstand what made other people happy. For a man who strove to connect people, he was and I suppose still is incredibly disconnected. I mean that in regards to both Luvvey, the tone deaf video Harris made for his mother, and Harris’ rather inhumane experiment with the city of “Quiet.” From a psychological standpoint the experiment was certainly very fascinating, but at the time of watching the whole thing play out I felt that in the process of marketing and vetting for the experiment, the people who wound up participating were disproportionately those who possessed certain personality traits and quirks that made them more okay with living out their personal lives with cameras watching them 24/7. As I’ve thought about it while writing this piece, however, that sort of vetting also occurs naturally in the digital world we reside in today; the personalities we follow en masse on the Internet are disproportionately expressive, extroverted people who like to connect with an audience and reap material and emotional gains from sharing their personal details with the world. The film was still disturbing though, and the implications surrounding our digital privacy going into the future didn’t really connect with me or make me feel genuinely concerned, except maybe towards the end of the film. Towards the end there was a reference to how the words we type into our emails can be used to determine what searches or ads we receive, or something along those lines. That actually surprised me; I knew about things like data mining and search engines and YouTube and Facebook prioritizing what content we receive by analyzing what videos and posts and stuff we clicked on, but I didn’t think companies had something to analyze our email content. I don’t know if that’s still a practice that’s allowed today, but if it is I suppose that’s disturbing. In general though, as a guy who’s grown up in the digital age and used things like YouTube and Google and email for much of my life, concerns about privacy haven’t really dissuaded me from using the Internet, and I don’t think the film will ultimately affect any of my Internet practices. Social media was brought up a lot, it was maybe even the main reason the film painted the Internet as dangerous, but despite that and the fact that I’m technically writing this review for my Social Media class, I don’t really use sites like Facebook and Twitter, as I’ve written before. I do own a Facebook account technically but I almost haven’t used it at all. On the other hand, I do watch videos on YouTube a lot. While YouTube isn’t exactly a social networking site it still feeds into that general theme of users producing and consuming content (at times the content is intended for select communities) and using “likes” and “dislikes.” When it comes to anything on the Internet, I’m almost always a consumer and not a producer except in rare cases, like the blog posts I’ve recently started writing for Medium. I think that what Harris didn’t understand when he created Quiet was that while more expressive people would naturally become prominent on the Internet, even those types of people and just people in general desire to present a more curated version of themselves online. Even I do this subconsciously on the occasions when I actually write something like a YouTube comment, because I chose to use my actual real life face and my real name in my profile. We may be careless with information that we shouldn’t be careless with, like with addresses and identifying information, but we don’t ever want people to see the bad side of our personalities or the things in our lives we aren’t proud of. The truth is that much of Internet culture is sustained by second identities with which people can say what they want only because they know their real selves won’t be recognized. People are able to freely engage in dialogue about embarrassingly esoteric subjects or extreme political views through online identities. The people on social networking sites on the other hand only show things that are always positive and that reflect well on them. Even when people become extroverted enough that they become YouTube personalities and Internet icons who show their faces, they are able to control what their audience sees; the people living in Quiet did not have that luxury. 24 hour surveillance meant that everything they were doing was exposed. Harris didn’t recognize the flaw in his reasoning until he tried living in public himself, and the experience was so terrible that he ultimately moved to another country. My takeaway from analyzing “We Live in Public” and thinking in larger terms about the Internet as a whole is that the Internet is fundamentally changing our society but not in the way I originally thought, and not in the way the film sought to make me think.

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